“Jimmy Lewis, who heads an association of rural hospitals in Georgia,” told Georgia Health News, “there’s a magic number when it comes to sustaining a rural hospital without extra government support: a potential patient population of 40,000 people.
Taos County, NM, where the local Holy Cross Hospital says if it doesn’t get more help from local taxpayers it won’t be able to meet its payroll has a population of 33,000.
San Miguel County, where the local Alta Vista Hospital has veered from crisis to crisis, even closing its obstetrics and birthing services, has a population of 27,000.
Both hospitals frequently seek “extra government support,” in addition to a variety of on-going local and state incentives meant to help keep NM’s rural hospitals alive. And when push comes to shove, they usually get it, because the alternative – letting the hospital close – is close to unthinkable.
Experience across America shows, this is for a good reason, because for communities struggling for a future, the loss of their hospital is usually a sign the town or county has entered a death spiral.
Hospitals not only save lives, they provide jobs, both inside the facility and surrounding it in everything from coffee shops and flower shops, to cleaning and equipment services. And hospitals attract jobs. Few employers will move into a town that has no hospital to serve its employees.
When rural hospitals close, people die. Simple as that, because when a rural hospital closes, it’s a long ride to the nearest open one, so a treatable accident becomes a fatality. 20% of America lives in rural areas, but that’s where 60% of the country’s deaths from trauma occur.
And the demand side of America’s rural health crisis isn’t just driven by car crashes along the Interstate. Statistics show rural residents tend to be much sicker to begin with. They have higher rates of chronic illness and psychological stress.
Here are 2 bottom lines: rural counties report higher rates of death before age 75, and higher rates of infant mortality.
It was a homecoming for Staci Matlock when she took the job of Editor of the Taos News. She’d worked there as a reporter from 1995 to 1999, when she moved to the Santa Fe New Mexican where her byline commanded attention and respect for 18 years. As her boss, Robin Morgan, the owner of both the Taos and Santa Fe papers put it: “Staci has a statewide reputation as an accurate and insightful journalist. I respect her skill with the written word and her ability to empathize with New Mexicans of all walks of life.”
On a previous visit to HERE & THERE, Staci talked about the management problems and safety problems at Los Alamos National Laboratories.
Another HERE & THERE featured Dr. Sanjeev Arora, creator of the ECHO program to use tele-medical techniques to improve the quality of medicine available to patients in rural areas.